Sunday, October 28, 2007

“Radical” Defenders of Ragging

One of the things we inherited from our erstwhile colonial masters was the cruel and humiliating tradition of “ragging” junior students. Administrations have traditionally tended to ignore or play down the matter. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is the reality that ragging divides the student community and turns students into torturers. This certainly suits administrations far more than getting radical student communities raising questions about imperialism, the exploitation of peasants and workers, environmental degradation, or other social issues. I remember that when we were students, in Jadavpur University, it was our organisation, the JU Democratic Students Front, that used to generate anti-ragging consciousness. Our elected office bearers used to move among the students, halting ragging. On occasion, we got hold of raggers and demanded that the administration must take action against them.

The times have changed. There was a case of ragging in Jadavpur University, and under pressure from Supreme Court and the UGC, the University administration took some action. This was followed by divisions among the students, and an “agitation” demanding rescinding of action against the raggers. A series of posters and leaflets came out. Elected office bearers of the Faculty of Engineering and Technology Students Union resigned, because they did not agree with the position of many students that they should, if necessary, simply dismiss the charge of ragging, arguing that ragging had indeed taken place, and that while they did not want administrative punishment, they could not take the position that raggers should go scott free.
In this context, a pamphlet appeared, issued by Anirban Mondal (History PG II) and Agniswar Chakraborty (MCA-I), both of JU. They are part of an organisation called Chhatra Andolan Prastuti, of which they are leading members. This fact must be borne in mind when reading or trying to make sense of their pamphlet. Because, much of the pamphlet is not about ragging, but about an attack on the DSF leadership, as well as other student groups. This is clearly a bid by a new group to get popular support. And it is done by championing, with radical verbiage, a colonial criminal action.
Wat does the pamphlet say about ragging in general and the specific case in jadavpur University? We are informed that those who commit ragging and those who support them, barring rare exceptions, are parts of us. They are not ‘criminals’. This claim is buttressed by an acknowledgement that ragging is not unusual in the Jadavpur University Campus.
However, a major effort is made to dilute the issue of ragging by a series of arguments. First, every kind of societal power inequality and abuse of power is then called ragging. As a result, the real ragging gets lost. I was reminded, when reading this, of Heidegger’s argument that agriculture being turned into a motorized food industry was similar to the gas chambers. I soon realised that the similarity was not accidental. The core argument was post-modernist, with a fascistic bent.
Since this may appear strong, let me explain that not all opposition to bourgeois democratic authority is progressive. It has happened repeatedly in the history of radical and socialist movements that less theoretically aware sectors have made precisely this mistake. Paul Lafargue, a French Socialist who was also Marx’s son in law, once thought that it was possible for socialists to latch on to the dictatorial hankerings of General Boulanger, since he was opposed to the bourgeois republic. Then there was the notorious Red Referendum, when the Communist Party of Germany sided with the Nazis in a referendum against the Social Democrats. So it is possible that this fascistic pamphlet will be taken as a radical one by some left leaning students with inadequate conceptual tools.

Having described all power inequations as ragging, our ideologues go on to state that if in the family the mother is compelled to do something against her will at the dictation of the father, do we expect any verdict from a court? If due to some mistake (not my word, theirs) mental torture is perpetrated by a lover on the beloved (wow!, mental torture on the beloved – what a great love), the tortured one does not apply law. Society seeks solutions without the intervention of the state. Only when mistakes go beyond the average social level can special steps be taken. But if the authorities are to decide whether the level has gone beyond the social average, then it is unacceptable. Exemplary punishments are obstacles to real solutions.
Vague arguments follow, about how it is possible to get someone involved in a false ragging case.
But the core arguments are the ones I have summarised. What is their solution? As one subheading says – mass hearing, popular courts, general meetings.
Having admitted that ragging occurs regularly in Jadavpur University (an admission made in a different place, when they were trying to score a brownie point against the DSF leadership) our heroes now want us to believe that in such an atmosphere, a mass hearing can democratically solve the problem of ragging. But how will the charge be proved? In the case in Jadavpur University, a charge was that the names of the witnesses were kept concealed. This was done because of the threats that witnesses face. We have seen the “democratic” demand made to the elected Union office bearers – “since we elected you, you must say what ever we want you to say, even if it is, that no ragging had taken place”. Would it have been a popular court, or lynch law directed against the victim and the few witnesses who had dared to come forward?

In general, our “radical” ideologues clearly do not recognise the need for any law based community. This is not a socialist argument of any kind. Even the transition from capitalism to communism will need a public order. The idea, that mental torture (or even physical torture) in the name of love cannot be taken to court is something most feminists would reject. In India, just recently, we have had women’s movement activists fight hard for amendments to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. They did not argue that there should be no such laws.
It sounds very radical to say that xconsumerist society and power structures are causing ragging, so the fight must be against exploitation and authority. (Page 12 of the pamphlet). Inreality, this is like saying that till that happy day when total saocial change comes about, we must not demand specific measures from the state. In this entire discourse, the persons who get totally lost are the victims. They are told, you are agents of the authorities if you complain to them. Even though it is unlikely that you will get justice, go to mass meeting. Now what are these mass meetings? In the hostel, in one case, it was a group who supported the raggers. It was not a case that the entire student community was present. Even if they had been, I am supremely confident of the filibustering abilities of our pamphleteers and their cothinker. They would have driven away the mass, leaving only die hard supporters, who would then have declared, as the Hostel mass meeting sis, that there had been no ragging.

At the end, the defence of ragging is given a revolutionary, no longer merely radical, gloss. We are told that all these charges of ragging or anything are only attempts by the authorities to break the unity of the students. Lovely, ain’t it? Hail the unity of the bully and the bullied, for thus will we achieve the revolution!! It is to be hoped that students of JU will recognise this garbage for the right wing, fascistic argument that it is, and firmly reject it.